With a growing number of American companies and organizations expanding their reach globally, the concept of growing leaders capable of working in a variety of different cultures is an increasing challenge for the human resources professional.
What does it take to be a flexible leader who can adapt to any post, regardless of where it is located?
It turns out there’s no simple answer to that since every country is different, but the one outstanding characteristic for the leader abroad is an excellence in communication skills.
There’s no denying the need to build global leaders as one company after another opens offices in India, China, Russia, the Nordic countries and all parts of Europe.
Three years ago Forbes magazine conducted an extensive research project to see what skills these project leaders had to take with them and discovered that the answer was quite complex. The problem is that what works well in one country as a leadership strength does not necessarily play well in another.
For example, leaders going to India and China were identified as needing to be well versed in operational execution. They had to be hands on managers, setting up solid operational processes and managing individual performance. Leaders going to Nordic countries, however, needed to score higher in skills such as strategizing and communicating. They had to be solid ambassadors of change.
The problem is that for many American companies, the hard-driving push approach to change is often favored with a high emphasis on accountability as individuals. This does not always translate effectively into other cultures.
The bottom line for HR professionals readying staff for overseas assignments is to stress that you cannot always take your toolbox from home and expect to fix everything elsewhere. Focusing instead on communication skills and research to better understand the challenges and expectations of your new office will work more effectively in the long run.
Stress the need for patience and open-mindedness to understanding different cultures and recognizing that there are many ways to accomplish the same goal. Make your leaders aware of efficient mobile translation tools. Consider in advance the different holidays, different time zones and even different work hours that they may encounter.
Most of all, look for leaders who are known for their patience, courtesy and tolerance along with an open-minded attitude about the work and a high degree of curiosity to learn more about it.